Speed Writing #17 – Fandom Mashup

“Gryffindor,” Mikhail said firmly.  “Neville Longbottom level.”

“Airbender,” Evie countered, a smug smile on her lips.

“What?” Mikhail asked, an eyebrow raised in confusion.  “Did you just jump fandoms on me?”

“Ashitaka is clearly an airbender,” she replied.  He was one of the few people she could have this type of argument with.  “He’s all about peace and freedom.  He’s practically a reincarnation of Aang.”  She paused for a moment, her eyes going to the ceiling.  “Though I’m not sure how that would work, since Aang’s already a reincarnation.  So maybe we could call him alternate reality Aang.”

“Nuh uh.”  Mikhail shook his head.  “I see him as more fire nation.”

“Fire what now?”

He laughed, rocking back on her couch to put his feet up on the ottoman.  “His mission was nearly impossible, but had the drive to accomplish it.  Totally a firebender trait.”  He shrugged.  “Though I would entertain an argument for earth.”

“He’d be water before either of those,” she insisted.  “He’s got the adaptability down.  How else could he leave his isolated village and manage to both cure his curse and save the forest?”

“If he’d been a waterbender, the loss of his community would have been too much of a blow for him.”  He pushed his hair back, though it wasn’t really hanging into his face.  “And I’d only agree to earth because of his persistence and strength.”

She let a puff of air out of the side of her mouth, suggesting disgust, though the way her eyes crinkled at the edges suggested amusement.  “He doesn’t have the temper of a firebender.  If he did, he would have conquered Irontown to force his plans.  He always asked.  He gave others a choice in their response.  He tried to see where they were coming from.”  She ticked her points off on her fingers. “Why else would he take a turn on the bellows and spend all that time with the people of Irontown?”

“Because he was devious,” he suggested.

“Mikhail!”  She gasped in mock outrage.  “I’m appalled.  Simply appalled.”

He laughed again.

“The forest spirit wouldn’t have helped him if he’d been a scheming snake oil salesman,” she said indignantly, pulling her feet up under her.  “He pushed for peaceful resolution and discussion.  Shave what’s left of his hair and dress him in orange; he’s an airbender.”

“Gryffendor,” he retorted.

“Airbender!”

“I’m starving,” he said calmly.

She giggled at the non-sequitur.  “Yeah, me too.”

He nodded once, decisively.  “Fine.  I’ll concede that Ashitaka is an airbender, and you can take me to dinner.”

She stared at him a moment, then swallowed.  “Okay.  Where you wanna go?”  Was this a friendly dinner or a date?  They’d been friends for months, and she was interested in a more romantic relationship.  One that came with kisses and cuddles; Mikhail seemed like he’d be good at both. 

“There’s an Indian place over on Johnson,” he suggested.  “I’ve heard it’s nice.”

She grinned.  “Perfect.”  She’d been there once, and the low lighting would definitely make it feel more like a date.  She stood up and grabbed her purse off her desk.  “Get your shoes on earth boy.  I’m taking you to dinner.”


Prompt: We started arguing about which Hogwarts house this one character would be in and we completely lost track of time, and now you’re demanding I take you to dinner.  Is this a date?

A Familiar Story – the Series

The digital and trade paperback editions of It Sounds Familiar are starting to become available across additional platforms. This is the second book in the A Familiar Story series.

Two paperback books (Something Familiar and It Sounds Familiar) on a wooden table, separated by a green and blue glass orb.

The first book, Something Familiar, a story about a witch looking for a familiar and a shape-shifter who has run away from home. You can read the first few chapters for free over at Curious Fictions, if you want to try before you buy.

The second book, It Sounds Familiar, picks up with our witch and familiar pair coping with the biases they face in a society that is widely opposed to shape-shifters.

Update From Quarantine

Look what arrived in the mail yesterday!

The book It Sounds Familiar on a brown wooden table.

It Sounds Familiar is now available as a paperback and ebook at Lulu, and as an ebook at the Apple iBookstore. It should be hitting Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Rakuten/Kobo in the near future.

Paperback is looking a bit delayed as businesses and distribution chain components need to close to keep their staff safe. This is a necessary thing, and we can wait it out with our digital media in the meantime.

While we have no known COVID-19 exposures at our house, my daughter and I are both at high risk for complications, so we’re effectively quarantined (or perhaps reverse quarantined) for the foreseeable future. It’s all a bit surreal, but we’re getting by.

As a result of a teachers’ strike followed by school closures, I’ve been homeschooling my son for a bit over three weeks and my daughter for two and a half. Now that we’ve adjusted a bit, and distance learning picks up next Monday, I’m hoping to get my writing time back.

Speed Writing #15 – Heatwave

  The power was out, as it had been for the last three days.  Caleb sat on the front steps, leaning against the railing and fanning himself with the lid from the largest Tupperware bowl he’d been able to find.  The neighborhood was smothering in the sticky silence of the second brutal heat wave of the summer.  Nobody on this side of town could afford generators to power fans and refrigerators, and it was nearly too hot to move.  For some of the city’s elderly folks, moving too much had been a fatal mistake.

 Transformers were popping faster than the utility company could repair them, and it had become normal to hear the big diesel trucks rumbling around the city at all hours.  They still had water, but even it was warm, and he had to keep reminding himself to sip the liquid to replace what he was rapidly losing.

  The house was stuffy and oppressive.  The front porch was marginally better; there was a hint of a breeze every so often.  It wasn’t much, but he suddenly found he didn’t really need a lot to be content.  Maybe it was the lack of sleep, or the fact that eating just made him feel sick, or it was the increasing certainty that nature really had it out for him, but suddenly life was a whole lot simpler.

He closed his eyes and focused on his breath, the only real sound he could pick up.

 An almost inaudible low rumble rolled in the distance, and he slowly raised his head.  The sky was still gray, it had tricked people into expecting rain for a week or more.  But there was movement in the clouds now, sluggish, like the city, but present nonetheless.  He stared into the sky, half expecting it to be his mind playing tricks on him.  A bolt of lightning arced across the sky.  Moments later, thunder answered.

He didn’t want to get his hopes too high, and given the lethargy, it was easy not to.  He simply sat and waited to see what would come of this.  It may just be a cruel tease of nature, or it could be salvation.

Time didn’t matter so much, as he sat and sipped his tepid water, fanning himself with his plastic lid.  Eventually the breeze picked up, and with it, the neighborhood seemed to slowly come awake.  Neighbors who had been hiding in their bathtubs or basements crept out onto their front steps and yards.  The pretty lady across the street, who Caleb hadn’t quite gotten the nerve to introduce himself to, settled herself on the railing of her front porch.

 There was a new tension in the air.  While he could hear a little quiet muttering, no one seemed too keen to break the silence.  It was as if they were afraid too much talk would turn back the shower they all desperately awaited.  It wouldn’t have.  Caleb could see that in the clouds.  There was too much power wound up in this storm.  Under normal circumstances, he would have been more than a little worried about the potential for devastation, but now he embraced even that.

 It seemed only minutes and the neighborhood was plunged into twilight, though true night was hours off.  With no streetlights, it felt eerie, like a ghost town.  Next came great gusts of wind.  That alone started stirring people up.  It wasn’t exactly cool, but it had a cooling effect on a sweaty body.  Then the fat drops starting to fall,  rare and scattered few before becoming regular.

 Caleb levered himself off the steps, raising his face to the rain.


Prompt: thunderstorm after a menacing heatwave and we’re both getting weird looks for dancing in the rain

Note: I’m still off my game from the cold apparently.  Never even got to the dancing part, which is a bummer.  It was going to be epic.

A Vaguely Familiar Holiday

Hēi Māo woke slowly, stretching under the warm blankets and not even bothering to open his eyes. He was warm and comfortable, and though he knew it was well past his usual wake up time, there was no rush. The whole house was calm. His father’s house had been calm on Winter Solstice, too, though perhaps abandoned and bleak would have been better descriptors.

As he breathed in through his nose, the scents of cinnamon, nutmeg, and apple filled him. He groaned a little. Brigitte had said that making the wassail was one of her duties for the celebration of the holiday. As her familiar, he should be there with her, helping, learning the Defresne‑Li ways. While solstices and equinoxes were observed in the Parenteau household, it was always a quiet affair and not much of a celebration. At least not since his maman vanished. He was curious to see what was customary in normal families. He’d been in therapy a month now, but he already recognized that there had been nothing normal, and very little that was okay, about his upbringing in his father’s home.

Pushing away his blankets, he rolled to the side to get out of bed. Scampering on bare feet, he crossed the room and opened the trapdoor his witch must have closed so he could rest. She was so good to him! He’d spent the last month getting accustomed to a new schedule including school and homework. While he liked it very much overall, it had been an exhausting adjustment on top of so many other changes.

Quiet singing met his ears as he descended the stairs, and he peered over the railing to see Brigitte, Mama, and Papa working together in the kitchen. The song was unfamiliar, but something about it touched the very core of his being, and he froze. He felt suffused with the warmth of love and family. Though this was the shortest day, the song gave him hope that the coming light would bring even more good things.


Brigitte looked up and caught Hēi Māo’s eyes peering over the banister. Continuing to sing, she smiled at him, waving with a hand that held a green bit of plant. They had reached the chorus again, and she beamed at each of her parents while she continued her work. This was their traditional blessing of the ingredients for their feast.

By the time they reached the end of the song, Hēi Māo had crept down the stairs and into the kitchen, seating himself at the counter to watch. Though he was nearly seventeen, his face held the bright joy of a young child who has been able to stay awake through the longest night to watch the sunrise for the first time.

“Good morning Kitty,” she said, setting aside the thyme and reaching over to pat his head. “Did you sleep well.”

He closed his eyes and tilted his head to press against her hand, humming happily. “I did. It was very nice to lie in.”

“You’ve been working hard. You deserved it.” It still stunned her that he’d never really had a routine sleep schedule. His father had him up at all sorts of hours for photo shoots, and no one bothered to keep track of how rested he was. As a cat shapeshifter, he had the napping thing down, though, and it had probably been the only thing keeping him from dangerous sleep deprivation.

“What was that? It was beautiful,” he gushed. “What have I missed?”

“It was the blessing of our feast, before it’s prepared,” she explained. “Since it’s such a big deal, we like to help make sure it all turns out well.”

“And we’ll be cooking all day,” Papa said. “There will be ample opportunities for you to help out.”

Hēi Māo smiled and nodded. “Oh yes. Put me to work.”

Mama slid a tray of special winter treats, including her favorite lussekatter, onto the table. “You’ll start by helping us polish off some breakfast.”

“That’s hardly work,” Hēi Māo pointed out, then he closed his eyes and sniffed the aromas drifting off the tray. It was nice to see him so relaxed in human form.

“You can’t make it through the longest night without adequate preparation,” Mama said.

“And it’s not a day of just work,” Papa added. “Time together is the most important thing. We have lots of little rituals and trappings that hold meaning for us, but those aren’t the essential parts of the solstice celebration.”


Hēi Māo smiled, taking a Neufchâtel filled croissant off the plate. “This is all so new for me.” He wiggled his legs a bit to get rid of some excess energy.

“You said your family celebrated Winter Solstice,” Brigitte said, looking puzzled.

“We didn’t really celebrate anything,” he explained. “It was a guaranteed day off, mostly because father couldn’t expect anyone to work on this day. But it wasn’t anything special.” He shrugged. “It was kind of dour, to be honest.”

Mama let out a sound of dismay. “Well that simply won’t do, Hēi Māo. This is supposed to be an occasion of merriment and joy.”

“Our ancestors thought the only way to bring back the sun was to tempt it with song and food,” Papa added. “While we have the actual science behind the astronomical phenomenon, it’s still a time of great magic and very much worth celebrating.” He patted Hēi Māo’s shoulder. “We’ll show you the proper way to do this, son.”

“I’ll be a good student,” Hēi Māo promised.

“You’ll enjoy yourself,” Mama ordered, though she softened it with a smile. “Now you should have some of Brigitte’s wassail. It’s the best way to start your solstice morning.”

“And every morning as long as it lasts,” Papa added.

Speed Writing #14 – Going Solo

I woke disoriented and my eyes felt gritty.  Sunlight was shining on me from a strange direction, though my blanket felt and smelled familiar.  I stretched and rubbed my eyes before looking around the room.  The eggshell white walls were bare and there were boxes stacked next to the dresser.  I was in a new apartment.  I’d moved my stuff in yesterday, but hadn’t finished in time to even start unpacking.  Kicking off the blanket, I sat up and rested my feet on the bare wood floor.  It was cool against my skin, so different from the carpet of my old place.  But that had kind of been the point.

The efficiency was my first apartment on my own.  The last place I’d shared with my boyfriend.  Ex-boyfriend, rather.  We’d broken up a couple months back, and it had been ugly and uncomfortable ever since.  To be honest, it hadn’t been comfortable for the two or three months leading to our dissolution.  Getting out was a relief, and it felt like I could finally breathe again.  But it was also a very definitive sign that we were really through and there was no reconciling.  Not that I really wanted him back.  I mean he’d been a jerk.  He’d already slept with two or three people since I told him we were through, and that didn’t count the ones he’d been with when we were supposedly monogamous.  It wasn’t the end of the relationship that was hard; it was more the destruction of the idea of what the relationship was supposed to have been that hurt.

As I was rummaging through boxes for a bowl, I heard the soft sound of footsteps upstairs.  One of the things that appealed to me about apartments was that I didn’t feel alone.  There were people all around me, but I had my own private space.  Victorious with my initial search, I tried to find my silverware.  Cautious shaking of boxes eventually revealed it to me.  I was just starting my quest for cereal when the gentle background sound of water running through pipes in my ceiling started up.  I closed my eyes and embraced the way these noises differed from my last place.  I needed to get used to them, because this would be home for a while.  

Thirty seconds later I was startled out of this contemplation by the most beautiful baritone voice singing “She Moved Through the Fair.” He was really good, and I wondered if he was a vocal music major at the university about a mile down the road.  He was way too good to be an amateur, yet it seemed unlikely that a professional would live in a building of mostly efficiencies and two bedroom apartments rented by college students and recent graduates.  I felt the smile spread over my face.  I had no idea who he was, and it didn’t matter.  This one moment had totally made my day.

I tried not to get attached to the voice of my unknown upstairs neighbor, but it was hard.  He always sang in the shower, and I was embarrassed to realize I’d memorized his routine.  Six am shower, every other day.  He seemed to prefer Italian to Latin, though there was a German piece that distracted me so thoroughly I’d burned the eggs I’d been scrambling.  He had a whole repertoire of English folk songs.  He sang in the evenings as well, but didn’t really belt it out like he did in the shower.  I was torn between telling him that his spontaneous arias were a bright spot in any day, and accepting it as a gift from the universe.

The universe, as it turned out, had other ideas.  Ideas involving the two of us retrieving our mail at the same time.


Prompt: You live in the apartment above me and every day I can hear you singing in the shower; you’re really good and it makes my day.

Note:  I had to write this in two 15 minute stints because of a minor dinner calamity.  Everyone survived, and the lentil stew was awesome.

Speed Writing #13 – Summer Vacation in Terra Norma

Laura was sitting in the mid-level branches of the oak tree when she heard the garden gate creak open.  From her vantage point she could see Aster’s entire garden, a formal European design in extremely rural Minnesota.  She recognized the blond-haired teen walking along the path, cobblestones that had been placed with liberal use of magic when Laura had been away two summers ago.  She placed a marker in her book and considered calling to Jason, but decided to see how long it took him to find her.

He started by knocking at the back door.  Aster answered fairly quickly, and Laura briefly wondered if he’d come to see her.  Though her grandma had lost the ability to do magic, she’d been highly trained and could still serve as a valuable resource.  Aster waved her arms around a bit, as if indicating the garden, but Laura couldn’t hear her voice.  They had a brief conversation, then Aster went back to the kitchen and Jason turned away from the door and looked around.  

After a moment, in which she was sure he was considering all the options, he walked the path to the bench nestled in a thick patch of lily-of-the valley, right beneath the oak tree.  He took a seat, then looked up and smiled.  “Hello, Laura.“

Lately, when he smiled at her, or bumped into her, or spoke to her, she felt a rush of happiness and energy.  He was her friend and her math tutor.  He was a house fellow in her dorm at magic school.  He was nearly three years older.  Having a crush on him was inconvenient. “Good morning,” she called back.  She tucked her book down her shirt and  descended the oak.  She’d been climbing trees all her life, and this one since she was six.  Nine years of experience made it a quick task.

Jason watched, no expression on his pale face, and his blue eyes wide.  As she dropped down in front of him, she heard him let out a breath.  “I know I haven’t told you this,“ he said, “but it completely freaks me out to watch you do that.”

She laughed.  “What, climb trees?  You’ve seen me doing it for two years, and I’ve never fallen.“  She shrugged.  “You’ve seen me climb far scarier things.”  The corner watchtower to the school’s outer wall was a favorite hangout.

“Don’t I know it,” he agreed.  “You’ve got no fear of heights, have you?  But then… I suppose you don’t need to fear heights like the rest of us.“

“I’ve always liked heights, even before I knew I could levitate myself.”

He shook is head.  “It’s not natural.“  He sounded serious, but she knew he was teasing.

“It is for me.”  She untucked her t-shirt from her shorts and pulled out the book.  “What’s up?“

“I’m so bored!” he said, throwing his head back and sprawling over the bench dramatically.  “I’ve always worked at camp over summer vacation… well except when I was younger, and I went to camp.“

“Why’d you take the summer off anyway?” she asked, setting her book on the bench as she reached back to pull the binder out of her hair. “You always seemed to like it.”  She put the binder in her teeth and started slicking back her tight orange ringlets as best she could.  She preferred her hair long enough to braid, which kept it under control.  But last summer she’d had to cut it off as the price to save a friend’s life.  She had no regrets, but she was glad she could finally pull it back, even if the tiny ponytail was dorky and needed adjustment every few hours.

He frowned.  “My mom wanted to have more time with me, since I’m spending the whole school year at Ming Tang’s, which she feels violates their custody agreement.“

“Ugh.” Laura patted his shoulder.  “That sounds nasty.“  His parents divorce usually seemed so calm that she tended to forget about the high emotions that caused it.

“Yeah,” he agreed.  “But I don’t want to get held back again, and I really need to learn magic, which I can’t learn here.“  He straightened up and a serious, yet puzzled expression crossed his face.  “Have you noticed that Clarissa Memorial K through Twelve lacks a magical curriculum?”

It took effort to hold in the laugh that wanted to burst out.  “I had.  Very odd, that.“

He nodded.  “Completely unsuitable for mancers.  I shall have to write a formal complaint.”  He shook his head.  “Anyway, I agreed to stay here for the summer if I could stay at Ming Tang’s for the full year again.  It kept things peaceful and we don’t have to go into mediation again.“  He rolled his eyes.  “But my mom’s at work all day, so we don’t get quality time until she gets home, and I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do all day.  What do you do for fun around here?”

She raised her eyebrows.  “You do remember meeting me, right?“ Their first interaction had been through her locker door.  “And you remember me talking about how much better life is for me at Ming Tang’s, right?”

“Yeah, but I’m sure you still know how to have fun here, right?”  He sounded hopeful.

Shaking her head she pointed to the book.  “The library is my idea of fun in Clarissa.  Also, long bike rides.“

He scowled at her.  “That’s it, O’Dell,” he snapped, as if he couldn’t take any more.  “We’re mancers stuck in a town smaller than our school, and we are going to have the best summer ever!“

She gawked at him.  Oh god.  He was really serious.  She could see her plans of laying low and reading for fun scattering like leaves in the wind.

He jumped to his feet and grabbed her hand.  “Starting with the ice cream shop on main street.”  He started down the path, tugging her behind him.


Prompt: Everyone else is on vacation and we’re both stuck in our boring home town. Wanna hang out and mope about it together?

Speed Writing #12 – A Soggy Start

Morning dawned gloomy and threatening rain. The campground was filled with the nervous energy of people packing up as quickly as possible to beat the weather, or adjusting their tarps and rain flies to tough it out. By the time the first fat drops fell, those who remained planned to see it through.

Chai tossed a book and fuzzy blanket down on the couch of her motor home and went to put on the tea kettle. As she waited for the water to boil, she gazed out into the mostly deserted campground. There were only two tents left and herself. One of the tents was a high end enormous structure that looked well anchored down. The other, closer tent, was a tiny backpacker model designed more for weight and insect protection than severe weather. She frowned, wondering if its inhabitant was ready for a day long soaking which would surely seep through the light rip-stop. There was a green internal frame pack leaning against the closest tree.

Chai settled on the couch, snuggled into the blanket with her tea and book. She loved the low rolling thunder in the background and the gentle pounding of the rain. After a while, she set aside the book and closed her eyes to enjoy the weather.

She was startled out of her reverie by a loud crack of thunder. As she got up to refill her tea cup, her eyes were drawn out the window to the hiking tent. She felt her forehead furrow as she frowned. Water was ponding throughout the campground, and the tiny tent was surrounded. It wasn’t really warm enough to be comfortable thoroughly soaked. She understood the desire to be close to nature, but this just seemed too unpleasant.

Grabbing her umbrella and slipping on her hiking boots, Chai pushed open the lightweight side door and stepped down into the mud. “Excuse me,“ she called as she approached, hoping to be heard over the pattering of rain. “Is anyone in this tent?”

“Yes, I’m here,” a woman replied.

“Are you okay out here?” Chai asked. “It’s not that I doubt your abilities or anything, but I’ve camped in this weather before and was thinking you might be a bit wet.“

There was a shuffling noise of nylon against nylon. “Yeah. It’s more than a bit wet,” the woman agreed.

“Well if you’d like to get out of the weather, you’re welcome to join me,” Chai offered. “I’m your neighbor in the motor home, and I’ve got tea and cocoa.“

The zipper sounded as the woman opened her tent. “I’d love to.” She looked to be in her early thirties, and quite damp. “Is it all right if I bring my pack?“ She gestured to the tarp covered lump by the tree. “I may have something dry to change into.”

“No problem,” Chai said. “You can leave it in the shower enclosure to dry once you’ve changed.“



Prompt: “you’ve been camping in a crappy tent next to my really comfortable caravan/motor home and it’s been raining cats and dogs for ages, do you want to come in and have a hot cocoa to warm up?”

Notes: This was written in two chunks, the first started on a Saturday while waiting for my daughter’s dance class to wrap up. It was finished on a Sunday when I was sick and asthmatic. So my brain was less quick and agile, which may be apparent. I thought about not posting this, but figured it serves as an example that not every writing day is a good writing day, and that’s okay. It’s part of the process, and it’s true for any art.

Non-Binding – Part 6

“Hey, you look really happy today,” Simza said as she paused by Adric’s chair before first hour.

His smiles were coming more readily now, and they didn’t feel so out of place. “Yeah. I worked really hard over the weekend, and I’m finally caught up on everything.” He held out his hands as if to demonstrated their emptiness. “So now I’ll only have regular homework.”

“That’s wonderful!” She bent down to give him a quick hug. “Does this mean you’ll be able to hang out when Zin or I ask, now?”

“Yeah.” He nodded. “I was actually wondering if you guys might want to come over and play video games this afternoon. My cousins have a really nice set up with the biggest TV I’ve ever seen.”

“I’m in,” Zindel said. “But a word to the wise, Cat’s wicked good at first person shooters.”

The bell cut off further conversation.

It wasn’t until lunch that it became clear Laurel hadn’t given up her complaint about having a vampire in her core block. Adric was sitting next to Simza, which had somehow become the default, with the rest of her circle around them. Everyone seemed pretty excited about going home with him after school, and they were discussing what game systems and games they wanted to try.

Adric hadn’t even noticed his friends getting distracted until the lunch room went oddly quiet. It wasn’t silent, by any stretch, but a lot of kids had clearly stopped to stare. A line of students led by Laurel were marching into the lunchroom, carrying posters with anti-vampire messages.

No blood suckers in my school!

Vamps go back to Europe!!

UNdead and UNwelcome

EVERY vamp is a killer!

They want you’re blood!

Kick ’em out!

A wave of garlic-scented air washed over him, and Adric doubled over, gagging. He couldn’t help but recall the last time he’d smelled it. The touch of the carpet under his fingers. His parents’ blood all over the living room.

The cafeteria was suddenly too loud, too crowded, too hot. Someone tugged on his arm, but he pulled away with a moan. Leaping to his feet, he ran blindly out of the room, crashing into several protesters without even slowing down. His vision was distorted, reduced to a sick combination of red and blue. He only stopped when he hit a wall solid enough to knock him down.

Back hunched, he pressed his face to his knees and huddled close to the wall. His whole body shook hard enough to render him useless. Mindless rage pushed at the edge of his consciousness, and it was all he could do to keep it from breaking through and taking over. His hands grasped fistfuls of his hair and pulled, trying to force himself to focus on something physical and isolated.

After what had felt like an eternity, it suddenly became easier. He was abruptly aware of his sharp uneven gasps, and moved his attention to steadying his breathing. It was quieter now, though life had surely continued around him. After all, if it hadn’t stopped for his parents’ death, why would it pause for his meltdown? After another unmeasurable time, he realized there was a voice, soothing and gentle.

“It’s okay, Adric,” Simza whispered. “You’re safe. Nothing’s going to hurt you. And you aren’t going to hurt anyone else. I’m here with you, and you’re safe. We’re both safe.”

He moaned and yanked at his hair.

“Oh!” It was a sound of dismay. “No, don’t hurt yourself,” Simza begged, her fingers ghosting over his head without really touching him. “Let me help you Adric. Please.”

She could force her magic on him. He was sure he was no match for her ability to incapacitate him, but she hadn’t. She’d shielded him in a magic bubble, and when that wasn’t enough she asked for consent. Still curled in on himself, he released his tangled locks with one hand and reached toward her. Even with his senses on overload, he knew where she was.

Her fingers slipped between his, and her magic washed over him like a warm wave. He trembled once, then stopped, relishing for a moment in the stillness. With a nudge of her free hand, he unfolded and allowed himself to be pulled against her, his face pressed to her neck. Her fingertips caressed his cheek a few times.

“Doing a little better?” she asked.

He nodded, not sure he could talk yet. He felt limp and exhausted.

“Can you tell me what happened?” she asked.

He shook his head. “Don’t wanna.”

“Yeah, I’m not surprised,” she murmured. “But I think I need to know what made you react like that. I know you don’t have the benefit of a bond, so I get that you’re more sensitive. But this was more than that. You don’t have to be too specific, if that helps.”

He twisted so he could more fully lean on her, his free arm slipping around her. She was warm and safe and strong. She was so kind. She’d rescued him twice, even though she didn’t know him well. She deserved to know. “It was the garlic,” he finally whispered. “On top of the hate, it was too much.”

Her hand made its way into his hair, soothing his scalp where he’d yanked at it. “I thought garlic was just an annoyance to your people.”

“We have a… history with it,” he explained. “On it’s own, it’s nothing. But people have used it for centuries in misguided attempts to kill vampires. The association is pretty awful at this point.”

“That’s disgusting.” Her hand squeezed his firmly.

He nodded. “Almost two months ago, I came home from school and…” His voice caught. He took a breath. “My parents had been murdered.” He hadn’t spoken to anyone about this once the emergency response team had shown up. He was surprised he managed to get the words out.

“Oh god, Adric,” she whimpered. “I’m so sorry.” She moved so she could press her cheek to his. “You don’t have to tell me anything you don’t want to,” she reiterated.

He wanted her to know, it was almost a compulsion. “I’m the one who found them, and it was…” He gulped. “It was horrible. Whoever did it was afraid they’d recover, so they used almost all of the myths about killing us.” The wooden stakes, iron nails, and odd burns in the upholstery and carpet still showed up in his dreams. “There was garlic, and… I guess the smell just… it was like finding them all over again. It was like being alone in the living room with my dead parents, and waiting for a warlock to show up and lock me down.”

She turned toward him so she could hug him with both arms, rather than the odd hug and snuggle hybrid she’d been maintaining. “I’m so sorry Adric. You don’t deserve any of this.”

He clung to her and the sense of peace she gave him.

“I think I understand why you haven’t bonded with anyone else.” Her fingers smoothed his hair away from his face. “I can’t imagine having it ripped away from you like that.” She sighed.

“Yeah, but I’m going to have to do it… probably before I’ll be allowed to come back to school.” Just when he’d gotten all caught up and seemed to be fitting in.

“Hey, it’s going to be all right,” she promised. “You don’t really think you’ll get kicked out for this, do you?”

Adric shrugged, finally opening his eyes. He could see someone outside their bubble, and they were holding an opaque purple curtain of magic around Simza’s translucent bubble.

“That’s Master Lemire,” she explained. “He’s the school nurse and an amazing warlock.”

He groaned. It made sense that he’d been called in, but it felt like another strike against him.

“You’re not going to be suspended for having a panic attack,” she said with a snort. “You didn’t hurt anyone, and you actively removed yourself from a situation before you could lose control. Those are all points in your favor.”

“I feel like a disappointment,” he said. The energy of his freak out had dropped him into a hole of self-loathing.

“I have a suggestion, if you’d be open to it,” she said quietly.

He nodded. She’d helped him, and she knew so much.

“I think you need your new bond to be as different as possible from your old one, then it won’t feel like you’re replacing it.” She hesitated, then loosened her hold enough to lean over and look into his face. “I’d like you to bond with my circle; instead of an individual binding, you’ll be connected to every member of the circle. We’re friends, not family, and none of us are vampires.”

“It would definitely be different,” he agreed. He took a moment to consider it, surprised to find that it didn’t cause the strong revulsion the idea of bonding with his aunt and uncle did.

“Once you’ve settled into the circle, I think you should bond with some of your people again,” she suggested. “Because that’s probably important, too.”

She wasn’t wrong. “Okay.”

“Okay? Like, you agree or like you’ll do it?” A half smile crept onto her face, and he suspected she knew the answer but was just verifying.

“Both.” He snorted and slid one hand down to grasp hers. “You’re right, about what I need to do. And yes, I’ll join your circle.”